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Sikh Warriors

Sikh Regiment at Kargil

Remember the Battle of Saragarhi when Havildar Ishar Singh with 21 Other Ranks (ORs) made the supreme sacrifice while repulsing an attack by more than 10,000 Afridi tribesmen in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), now in Pakistan? The British Parliament had then arisen as one man to pay its respect to these gallant Sikh soldiers. Now, more than 102 years later, the entire nation has risen again. This time to acknowledge the triumph of the Sikhs at Helmet and India Gate ( Tiger Hill features) in the Kargil sector.

Valour is the second name of the Sikh Regiment. It has a long and distinguished history. It continues to be the highest decorated regiment in the Indian Army with 73 battle honours and 38 theatre honours. The regiment also enjoys the distinction of having in its fold the highest decorated “Battalion of Commonwealth”— the 1 Sikh — and the highest decorated soldier, Naik Nand Singh, who has the Mahavir Chakra and the Victoria Cross pinned to his chest. Moreover, the regiment has, in the post-Independence era, won two Param Vir Chakras, two Ashok Chakras, two Param Vishisht Seva Medals, 14 Mahavir Chakras, 5 Kirti Chakras, one Uttam Yudh Seva Medal, 10 Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 64 Vir Chakras, 22 Shaurya Chakras, 104 Sena Medals and 31 Vishisht Seva Medals — a total of 1596 gallantry awards.

Though the official history of the regiment dates back to 1846, its biological heritage has its roots in the teachings and sacrifices made by the Sikh Gurus. Imbibing the culture and chivalry of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s erstwhile Khalsa Army, the ethos and traditions of the regiment got formalised with the ‘ Regiment of Ferozepore Sikhs’ and ‘Regiment of Ludhiana Sikhs’ on August 1,1846, through Capt G. Tebbs and Lieutenant Colonel P. Gordon, respectively.

And when men and officers from two of the battalions of this regiment — 8 Sikh and 14 Sikh — were inducted into Kargil operations, they lived up to their rich martial tradition of self- sacrifice. One had to be in Kargil to understand the inhospitable terrain where men from Indian infantry made history. The enemy — Mujahideens and Pakistan Army regulars — had occupied all the ridges or features. Unlike the picturesque hill stations of Shimla, Darjeeling, Manali or Chail, the higher reaches, peaks or features along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kargil, are not gentle tree and shrub peaks but jagged rocks of granite and basalt found at this end of the Tibetan plateau. These are some of the oldest and hardest rocks in the world.

Devoid of even a blade of grass, most of these ridges have razor-sharp edges. The southern rock face is often a sheer cliff. The more accessible slopes have a 70 degree incline. The ridges are also narrow and a single machine gun is good enough to neutralise a 10 to one advantage in manpower at the ground level. From the positions that the intruders had occupied, they appeared to be “undefeatable”.

Sikh Soldiers after winning Tiger Hill at Kargil

It was on May 14 that 8 Sikh was assigned the task of recapturing Tiger Hill. The information given or gathered was scanty. It was believed that only a few Mujahideens were holding the feature. As the assault began in the shape of an initial probing action along the southern approach, intense fire, both direct and indirect, was opened by the enemy. Undeterred by the fire, Subedar Joginder Singh and his platoon continued its march forward and successfully reached the base of the spur leading to the Tiger Hill top. Subedar Joginder Singh, who alongwith Lance Naik Ranjit Singh spearheaded the retaliatory fire, made the supreme sacrifice. The crucial foothold gained by the Subedar proved critical in the ultimate capture of the Tiger Hill.

The quantum of fire of the enemy proved beyond doubt that it was in strength and well-fortified at the Tiger Hill. The Hill complex comprises Tiger Hill (top), Eastern Spur, Western Spur, IndiaGate, Rocky Knob and Helmet.

Sikh soldiers on captured peak

The Army had planned to isolate Tiger Hill before capturing it. This was achieved by 8 Sikh by May 21 after dare-devil actions by Sepoys Rashwinder Singh, Sukhwinder Singh and Jaswinder Singh in occupying key heights to neutralise enemy fire. In utter disregard to their personal safety, these gallant men succeeded in occupying key positions.

Between May 31 and July 2, the men and officers of this battalion continued to cause heavy damage to the enemy by both direct and indirect fire and continued their progress forward so as to close in on the enemy. Each night, they would burrow through the snow, create a crawl trench and set up a new post — moving towards the peak slowly but steadily. Unmindful of the extremely harsh weather conditions, with rain, sleet and snow coming upon them along with the enemy fire everyday, the brave soldiers dared their enemy to show up and get ready for their final “kalma”. A number of casualties were inflicted.

The assault party lost Lieutenant Kanad Bhatta-charya in a brave patrolling encounter. In all, 10 jawans were killed and 48 others were wounded. These casualties notwithstanding, they closed on and isolated Tiger Hill from three directions. It was imperative that the Western Spur was also captured to bottle up the intruders at Tiger Hill top.

Major Ravinder Singh and Lieutenant Sehrawat accompanied by four JCOs and 52 ORs took up the challenging assignment of capturing the Western Spur. It was on the night of July 4/5 that this group of gallant soldiers of 8 Sikh left amidst the war cries of Bole so Nihal to capture Rohino Horn, Rocky Knob, Helmet and India Gate. These positions had been heavily fortified and were dominated by the enemy from Tiger Hill on the east and Trig Heights on the west. The task was challenging as the approach was from a slope with a 75 to 80 degree gradient.

For the marjivre Sikhs, the extremely bad weather and the steep gradient hardly mattered. Subedar Nirmal Singh, Naib Subedar Karnail Singh and Naib Subedar Ravail Singh established a firm base. Lieutenant RKSehrawat was to coordinate the assault by three teams. By midnight, all the three teams were suitably poised for the capture of India Gate, Helmet and Rocky Knob. As the war cries of Bole So Nihal, Sat Siri Akal rent the air, the men got going and all hell broke loose. Intense enemy shelling and direct firing opened up. A “cock fight” ensued during which bunkers were cleared one after another. By 4 am, India Gate and Helmet had been captured. The attacking troops, in the meanwhile, had firmed up defences in an area 700 metres by 500 metres. Construction of protective sangars was immediately taken up. Apprehending a violent retaliation from the enemy, all preparations for repulsing any attack were made.

In fact, two major attacks were repulsed in which Major Iqbal of SSG and Capt Kamal Sher of 12 NLI were killed along with 30 others. Three JCOs – Sub Nirmal Singh and Karnail Singh and Naib Subedar Rawail Singh – and 18 ORs made the supreme sacrifice. The wounded included Major Ravinder Singh and Lieutenant Sherawat besides 18 ORs. The capture and defence of the Western Spur facilitated the capture of Tiger Hill top on July 7. The unit lost a total of 35 men. About 70 werewounded — a high price. But by sheer grit , 8 Sikh won the day at Tiger Hill. After 8 Sikh had accomplished its task in the high traditions of the regiment, it was the turn of 14 Sikh, the youngest of the Sikh battalions, to teach another lesson to the enemy.

On May 27 the battalion was airlifted to Leh. The advance party led by Major Rohit Sehgal had already been moved to Channigund to contain the enemy’s intrusion in Kaksar area. This party occupied a defensive locality to prevent any further intrusion into the sensitive Batalik sector and provide a firm base for offensive operations which were to follow.

On May 27, the enemy brought down effective and intense fire on this defensive location. To neutralise enemy fire, Sepoy Buta Singh, in an act of exemplary courage and bravery, moved the Medium Machine Gun to an advantageous postion and brought effective fire on the enemy for about four hours. The enemy concentrated its fire to neutralise effective MMG fire. Sepoy Buta Singh, hit by small arms fire of the enemy, continued to operate his MMG till he breathed his last and prevented the enemy from capturing the Company defended locality.

Immediately on arrival at Leh, 14 Sikh dispatched a Company column to Chorbatla to strengthen the lightly held position there. The Company moved to Hanuthang and on to Handanbrok covering 22 km at an altitude exceeding 15,000 feet. This was a feat in itself and reflected the physical and mental robustness of the brave Sikh soldiers.

On June 7, the balance of 14 Sikh was given the responsibility of Chorbatla. It moved and occupied the commanding heights along the Line of Control.

The enemy activity in the sector was at a somewhat low key. Naib Subedar Jasbir Singh, in an exemplary effort, established a Section Post at point 5620 (approx. 19,000 ft). His drive and enterprise secured the eastern flank of Chorbatla. Subsequently, the enemy was totally dominated.

“Sikh Regiment: where valour is Tradition” by Prabjot Singh. The Tribune

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